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From Yemen with Malice

10:40 AM, Oct 30, 2010 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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The two explosives-laden packages were reportedly destined for a Jewish synagogue and community center in Chicago. At least one of the two was set to be detonated using a cell phone. It is not clear if they were intended to explode while the airplanes were mid-flight or once they arrived in Chicago. Either way, these bombs were supposed to rely on technology rather than suicide bombers.

From AQAP’s perspective, this makes sense. The chief failure of the Christmas Day plot was a human one. Abdulmutallab bungled his opportunity to detonate his underwear bomb and alert passengers made sure he couldn’t keep trying.

IEDs are commonly used on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, of course. Even if the specific design is different in this instance, the concept is the same. Terrorists implant the device and then detonate it via cell phone or some other mechanism from afar. What is different here is that the terrorists tried to mail the IEDs from Yemen to the heart of the U.S.

Much of AQAP’s propaganda is designed to recruit new terrorists in the West such as Abdulmutallab and Major Nidal Malik Hassan (who went on a shooting spree at Fort Hood in November 2009). But here, the terrorists did not try to rely on an individual terrorist operating in the West to launch an attack.   

Finally, Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano confirmed this morning that the Saudis, who have been an uneven partner in the fight against al Qaeda, provided the intelligence that allowed authorities to locate and diffuse the two bombs. There are good reasons why the Saudis would have their fingers on the pulse of AQAP. The organization has repeatedly targeted the Saudi royals. And most of the former Gitmo detainees who have joined AQAP graduated from Saudi Arabia’s rehabilitation program for jihadists.  

Said al Shihri, who has mocked the Saudi rehabilitation program in public statements, has called for Saudi security officials and servicemen to turn on the Saudi government. And AQAP has launched several attempts to assassinate top Saudi officials. One of the attempts involved Said al Shihri’s brother-in-law, Yousef al Shihri.

Yousef was also once held at Guantanamo, transferred to Saudi Arabia, and then enrolled in the rehabilitation program. Yousef was killed in a shootout with Saudi security forces on October 13, 2009. He was dressed as a woman and wearing a suicide explosives belt at the time. Yousef and his accomplice wanted to kill Prince Muhammad Bin Naif Bin Abdul Aziz, who is the Saudi deputy interior minister and oversees the Kingdom’s counterterrorism efforts.  

Thus, Prince Abdul Aziz and some of his extended family members have a vested interest in tracking AQAP’s terrorist designs closely. In this case, it was to America’s benefit.

But there is a boomerang effect here. What drives AQAP’s terror is not Guantanamo, or President Obama’s policies in Yemen. The Saudis who lead AQAP were indoctrinated in jihadist ideology by Saudi clerics.

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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